A New Hope

With the new academic year fast approaching, we were hoping to be able to avoid a return of the delays in Grouper to Active Directory provisioning we’ve suffered for the last two years. Salvation seemingly lay in the hands of Grouper’s next generation provisioning technology but, following a saga longer than a pod race and more twisted than Darth Vader’s mind, we’ve concluded that PSP-NG is still not quite production-ready.

But was that our last hope? No, there is another.

I’ve recently begun working on something I’d been thinking about for a while. It’s not a replacement for the PSP technology but I believe it can complement it and significantly alleviate the impact of the inevitable provisioning backlog at the start of September.

Using Talend, the force behind much of the Institutional Data Feed Service, I plan to interrogate the Grouper change log to find out which groups that are provisioned to AD have had membership changes. Then, for each of those groups, I can query the Grouper database to find the complete current membership list for those groups. After a bit of jiggery-pokery, I can then push the full list of members into the corresponding group in AD.

More testing is required but I’m confident that this will be a good addition to our resistance to the problem; perhaps the most powerful weapon in our arsenal of workarounds.

This is just a prequel; you can expect the next episode before the end of the month, where we will let you know whether or not we are in a position to make this new weapon fully operational.

Good news for staff onboarding

One of the most common queries (and, dare I say, criticisms) we get with Grouper is about why a new member of staff is not yet in Grouper*. Expectations of our IT systems and services are so high that everyone expects everything to be set up and available ready for new staff the moment they walk through the door on their first day.

Previously, due to the timing that we receive ‘current’ staff data from SAP HR**, we weren’t loading new staff into Grouper until the night after their first day.

Well, not any more!

I’ve rewritten the way we consume SAP HR data so we now identify ‘current’ staff through a different mechanism, without the need to refer to our previous source of this information. This means that we now know, from midnight each night, who is a current member of staff for the forthcoming day. This also applies to internal staff moves; we should always have the correct, current data relating to department, job title, etc. This data is now available to any new data feeds that need up to date information on current staff***.

I’ve rewritten the job to load subjects into Grouper to take advantage of this so now any new members of staff should be in Grouper before they arrive, raring to go, on their first morning. The impact of this can be quite impressive if they happen to be in a department which really takes advantage of the power of Grouper. For example, if you use corporate data to control access to team mailing lists, shared filestores and internal websites (or anything else) then any new staff member will be able to access all of that information from the moment they log in to their shiny new PC.

(And, by the way, let’s not forget that we were already pretty hot here! Getting access to all your resources on your second day is not to be sniffed at; when a certain ex-colleague turned up for his new job at a well-known multinational software company providing open-source software products to the enterprise community, he was asked to bring in a book to read for the rest of the week!)

* I’ve just realised that we’ve never actually documented this “issue”, despite having told many, many people about it many, many times. We did, however, cover it in our ‘Getting to Grips with Grouper’ session.

** Each evening we get the details of staff whose contracts are active that day.

*** I’ll get around to reimplementing the definition of ‘current’ for People Search and NU Service, in due course. They are both also using day old definitions of ‘current’ at the moment. UPDATE: Both People Search and NU Service are now taking advantage of this development.

Payback time

We had a good day yesterday. We didn’t produce anything new but we paid off a huge chunk of technical debt.

We moved our data warehouse to a new database on a new server and completed the upgrade of our (several hundred) data feed jobs to Talend 6.

There were a few obstacles along the way but nothing that the crack team of experts working around me couldn’t handle.

Whilst we were confident that we had got everything working yesterday, it was still reassuring to see that all of the overnight jobs, including the warehouse load, ran successfully last night.